A quick inventory of players who will NOT be in Latrobe this summer for the 2012 edition of Camp Tomlin:
– The franchises all-time leading receiver, and spiritual leader of the offense for the past six years.
– A starting middle linebacker who had earned the Captain patch by leading the defense into battle for the past decade.
– Two long-time defensive linemen who were leaders in the locker room and respected unconditionally by every player that has come through Pittsburgh during their tenures.
That, my black and gold minded minions, is what we call in the business “Leadership”.
The Steelers off season isn’t even over yet, and already the team is heading into 2012 with a major gap in leadership – a tangible quality that no NFL team wins without. While it doesn’t show up in stat lines or your fantasy football box score, leadership counts in a league where the roster is populated by 52 young men with a ton of money and very little life experience. Without leadership, you can have all the talent in the world and achieve absolutely nothing (see Jets, New York 2011). Players like Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Chris Hoke, and James Farrior led on and off the field. They ensured that players gave their all in every practice, treated each other with respect, followed the game plan, and most importantly they mentored your players who needed to be looked after. There is a reason why James Farrior was the man to pump up the team before they headed out of that Heinz Field tunnel on Sunday – respect. Farrior had earned that right by proving to the coaching staff and ownership that he was able to bring the defense group together into one cohesive unit. Do you ever wonder why teams like the Washington Redskins always seem to have so much talent, yet they never win anything? It’s because football is a team sport, and the strongest link in the chain is the most important one of all. Teams like the Redskins have too many guys pulling chains in every which direction, never together. The players the Steelers have lost this off season were some of the best leaders this franchise has ever seen, and to replace them will require numerous men to step up and take the reins as vocal and spiritual leaders of the most successful professional football franchise in NFL history. It is not an easy task, and very few current players have the swagger and overall team respect to forge ahead as the new leaders of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
On offense, its very simple. Ben Roethlisberger is a future Hall of Fame quarterback who has been to the brink of losing it all and rebounded to reclaim the love and respect of his peers. With Hines Ward gone, he is the unquestioned leader of the offense, and frankly, the entire team. Roethlisberger is now two years removed form his social issues, and has continued to develop into the type of man the Rooney family wants representing their team. “Big Ben” has done everything short of play with a broken neck, he is a tireless competitor who will never allow injuries to keep him out of a game, even though he spends most weeks getting thrown around like a sack of potatoes. Ben Roethlisberger is now the “face” of the Steelers, a position he has earned through hard work and persistence. Coach Tomlin knows that he has a leader in his quarterback, and he will be calling on him to keep the troops in line this season.
On defense, things are a bit trickier. Most fans would say that Troy Polamalu is a fine example of a leader, but despite the fact that he is the best player on the field – when he is on the field – Polamalu is a man of few words. Let’s just say that the chances of seeing #43 leading the pre-game rally in the tunnel is pretty slim. Polamalu leads by example on the field, and off the field. He is a deeply religious man who values his family over anything the game of football could ever bring him, which are the reasons that he is beloved by so many. However, as a leader in the locker room – the soft-spoken safety may have trouble getting his point across. Better we leave Troy to the issue at hand- scaring the snot out of opposing quarterbacks and slot receivers going over the middle.
Ike Taylor would be a candidate based on seniority. Ike has been with the Steelers since 2003, and has been a starter since 2005. He re-signed with the team last year when he probably could have taken a more lucrative deal elsewhere, and he has earned a reputation as one of the best cover corners in the league by people who obviously do not watch enough Steelers football. Ike Taylor is not a leader, he is a great player who will follow a great leader and probably be better for it. Lawrence Timmons is a beast, easily the best athlete on the defense and a scary human being to see running at you full speed. He is also a laid-back type of locker room guy, with no patience for the “Ra-Ra” energy a defensive leader needs to have (think Ray Lewis – unfortunately). Casey Hampton has had opportunities to step up as a leader before, and never fully embraced it then. I would assume he is happy with his current role of speaking softly and eating opposing running backs for mid-game light snacks. James Harrison is a player that is respected by all, but he is a tad bit on the not-so shall we say…..sane side. There is also the matter of his ongoing battle with the NFL over decapitating opposing players to contend with. Better to leave Harrison alone. Ryan Clark is a leader, outspoken and brash, with a tendency to hit first, think later (here’s looking at you Willis McGahee). Clark has become a vocal leader for the team and could very well be the guy who replaces James Farrior as the leader of the defense. Additionally, Clark plays free safety – a position that is integral to most of the plays in the Dick LeBeau bag of tricks. Could Ryan Clark emerge as the next defensive captain of the Pittsburgh Steelers?
Last but not least, I give you my choice. The Michigan Monster, the man with the stomp, the Steelers most intimidating defensive player. LaMarr Woodley has embraced Steeler Nation, he has been one of the most consistent forces on the Steelers defense, and he has in his possession a Super Bowl ring. All prerequisites for anyone who wants to be the Steelers defensive captain. Woodley is entering his sixth season with the team, and is signed through 2017. By the time his career comes to an end, he should be a lifetime Steeler, just like Ward, Smith, and Hoke. Woodley is an outside linebacker, a position that is the calling-card for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He is a shining example of a player who works hard in the community as well as on the field, and is a good role model for younger players. The time is right for LaMarr Woodley to become the new leader of the Steelers defense.
From Bradshaw t0 Franco to Swann to Lambert to Hoge to Ilkin to Gildon to Porter to Ward to Smith to Farrior and now to Woodley. The tradition of leadership in the Pittsburgh Steelers organization continues in 2012. We may see some younger players – Antonio Brown, Keenan Lewis, Maurkice Pouncey – emerge as leaders in the future, but for 2012 this Steelers team will rely on the leadership of Ben Roethlisberger and LaMarr Woodley to lead them to the promise land. With much more off season to go before the trip to Latrobe, anything can happen. However, the Steelers should feel pretty good about having these players wearing the C patch – at least theoretically – this season.
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